RSO Rookie Picks Pt. 1

Updated: July 16th 2017

With the passing of this year’s NFL draft, many of you in the RSO community will soon hold your own rookie drafts. To help you along this path, I studied the value provided by previous rookie draft picks.  Part 1 of the 2-part series gives some basic insights into the valuation of RSO rookie picks.  This series is not meant to be all encompassing given the uniqueness of every league.  Starting requirements, number of teams, scoring rules, and many other considerations ultimately determine the value of players.  Every league is different but hopefully this study provides a basis for readers to evaluate rookie picks in their own leagues.

The Data

Rookie draft pick data came from MyFantasyLeague ADP Rankings using keeper league, rookie-only draft data primarily. My data set includes the top 20 draft picks (those picks relevant to a common RSO 10-team, 2-round rookie draft) from 2007 to 2016 which comes to 200 players.  The sample included 80 running backs, 80 wide receivers, 30 quarterbacks, and 10 tight ends.

I obtained player fantasy values from Pro Football Reference (PFR). VBD (Value Based Drafting) values were calculated on a non-PPR basis. VBD measures the fantasy points a player scores above a designated baseline player.  PFR uses the 12th highest scoring QB, 12th TE, 24th RB, and 30th WR as the baseline players.  A player scoring less than the baseline player is given a zero value (there are no negative values in the system).  The values come from season-long statistics which tends to overvalue players who manage to stay healthy throughout the season.  Conversely, high-end performers missing games to injury or suspension will be undervalued along with those players assuming major roles for only portions of the season (running back handcuffs for example).   The findings are best applied to non-PPR 10-team leagues using 1QB/2RB/2WR/1TE/1Flex starting requirements.

We next disaggregate the data into various groupings giving us a better of idea of how to value our rookie picks.

Value by Draft Pick

Image 1

The above chart details the average value produced each year by a draft pick based on draft position. Not surprisingly, better draft picks tend to produce better results.  Players selected in the top half of the 1st round (picks 1-5) in rookie drafts offered 50% more value than picks 6-10 and averaged almost four times the yearly value of players selected in the bottom half of round 2 (picks 16-20).

Image 2

Another way to judge rookie picks is by their success rate. I defined a success, with the somewhat liberal definition, as any player who holds some value (produces VBD points) during their initial 4-year rookie contract.  Again we find the top picks significantly out-producing lower picks.  Picks in the top half of the first round found success at some time during their initial four years a little under ¾ of the time.  Picks in the bottom half of the first round averaged success a little under ½ of the time while 2nd round picks came in at about a 1/3 success rate.  The yearly success rate for players is not nearly as good.  Rookie picks as a whole averaged just over 1 valuable season for every four years.

Value by Position

Image 3

The fact that running backs lead other positions in value is not unexpected for non-PPR leagues, but the extent to which they dominate might be to some. Running backs averaged over 50% more value per season than wide receivers, more than 100% of quarterbacks, and over 300% of tight ends for the sample draft picks.  Other positions simply have no way to make up for the massive volume top end running backs achieve leading to potentially huge yardage and touchdown totals.  Quarterbacks and tight ends are particularly handicapped by traditional fantasy starting requirements where only one TE and QB must start.  The difference from the QB8 to QB20 and TE8 to TE20 was about 30 points or less than two points per game in 2016.  There are simply too many cheap replacement-level players available who will not cost your team very much in scoring unless you are up against one of the few elite options at either position.  These large value differences among positions from the chart above and the afore-mentioned supply of replacement level players at QB and TE strongly argue for the use of 2QB/Superflex and 2TE requirements in order to help balance values among positions.

Value by Year in League

Image 4

I next examined player values by looking at how they performed in each year of the initial four-year contract. The biggest take-away from the above chart is that players, on average, see the biggest value jump after their rookie season.  Dividing the data further in Table 1 below by positions offers more interesting insights.

image 5

Running backs and wide receivers (the two biggest positions by value) display the largest jumps in value in year two.  This somewhat contradicts the popular “3rd year breakout” notion applied commonly to wide receivers.  The data suggests quarterbacks and tight ends breakout in year three but we should keep in mind the small samples associated with each position, particularly tight ends.

Conclusions

Part 1 is just the “tip of the iceberg” with regards to the evaluation of rookie pick value but it does provide a few useful insights:

  1. No rookie pick comes without risk, but the top picks are expensive for a reason. Picks in the top half of the first round provide value and reliability which greatly exceeds other picks.
  2. Running backs tend to dominate value in these shallow non-PPR leagues. You always want elite players but take the top back on your draft board if you are in doubt.
  3. Players production usually jumps substantially after the rookie season. This provides a buying window for savvy owners to take advantage of more impatient owners who were disappointed by a rookie’s first season.

While Part 1 dealt with some of the basics of rookie pick values, Part 2 will evaluate RSO rookie picks based on the contract values involved. Hope to see you there!


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

Read the Fine Print

Updated: July 16th 2017

The NFL recently finished the first phase of free agency and with it came large contract dollars that make agents, and the players they represent, feel good about the deals that were doled out. And like other years, the initial contract numbers presented to the public largely distort the actual contract implications.  This article takes a more in-depth look into a few selected multi-year contracts of offensive players, examining short and long term NFL impacts plus consequences for RSO leagues.

Mike Glennon, QB, Chicago Bears

Published Contract: 3 years / $45 Million, $18.5M guaranteed

Real Contract: 1 year with two team option years

What it means: The contract likely paid Glennon more than was warranted or necessary for his services.  However, the Bears commit to the former Buccaneer for only one year with just $4.5 million owed after 2017.  Chicago’s overpay is tempered by cheap contract years in 2017 ($16M) and 2018 ($15M) with cap hits which project toward the low end of the spectrum for non-rookie deal starting quarterbacks if Glennon proves to be a good quarterback for the Bears. The one-year commitment also does not prevent the Bears using a high draft pick on a quarterback this season.

RSO league consequences: You should only consider Glennon useful in 2QB/Superflex leagues as a low-end starter or bye week/injury reserve.  There is very little upside on a Chicago team with lots of unknowns at receiver, who just lost its top receiving threat, Alshon Jeffery, to the Eagles, and figures to be run-heavy in the near future led by a strong offensive line and rookie-sensation Jordan Howard.  Glennon is not a player I would invest in for the long haul at the moment.  We will have more information about the Chicago’s future quarterback plan following the NFL draft.

Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills

Published Contract: 2 years / $30.5 Million, $15.5M guaranteed

Real Contract: 1 year with one team option year

What it means: Taylor remains in Buffalo on another team-friendly contract.  This contract and teams’ lack of interest in Colin Kaepernick (although there are other issues at play for Kaepernick) says a lot about the market for “running” quarterbacks with limited passing skills.  This situation could go in a lot of directions in 2018 depending on how he meshes with the new coaching staff.  The contract contains $8.6M in dead cap after 2017 (of which $5.6M is locked in through 3 voided years at the end of contract).  Taylor’s $18M cap hit is not outrageous if he is retained in 2018.

RSO league consequences: Taylor is a great one year option for those looking to go cheaper at quarterback. He does not have the passing skills to challenge the top performers but his rushing abilities give him a nice weekly floor which resulted in QB1 numbers on a PPG basis for 2015 and 2016.  Those running skills also help open lanes on the ground for LeSean McCoy and the rest of the Bills rushing attack.  The lack of pocket passing traits, on the other hand, severely limits Buffalo receivers’ upside including Sammy Watkins.  While I like Taylor in 2017, I am not looking for a longer contract.  There was not much of a market for Taylor during pre-free agency talks which resulting in Taylor taking a reduced contract to stay in Buffalo.  The Bills have now passed on the chance to commit to Taylor twice.  If teams will not commit, neither should you.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Bucaneers

Published Contract: 3 years / $33.5 Million, $18.5M guaranteed

Real Contract: 2 years with one team option year

What it means: Jackson solves massive offensive speed issues in the receiver group for Tampa Bay.  He can help a young Jameis Winston who enjoys throwing the football deep but has not been particularly effective at it.  Jackson creates far more separation than other receivers Winston throws to however.  The Bucs could conceivably cut Jackson in year two, but that option is highly unlikely with only $3.5 Million out of $11M not guaranteed and probably occurs only in the case of catastrophic injury or other major issue.  This is one of my favorite deals so far in free agency filling a major team need with reasonable contract terms.

RSO league consequences: Jackson remains a high-volatile WR3 in Tampa Bay, although one with higher upside than many receivers in this range.  Tampa Bay’s passing targets concentrated heavily on Mike Evans in 2016. The next two targets, Cameron Brate and Adam Humphries, together totaled fewer targets than Evans alone.  With only Brate and Humphries challenging for secondary targets to Evans, Jackson could easily see more targets than in his time in Washington.  I am very comfortable giving Jackson a 2 or 3 year deal as his weekly volatility generally results in cheaper RSO contracts.

Robert Woods, WR, Los Angeles Rams

Published Contract: 5 years / $34 Million, $15M guaranteed

Real Contract: 1 year with four team option years

What it means: This contract is a great example of how misleading the generic contract terms can be.  The Rams are only locked in for the first season of the five year contract.  Even the guarantees are not guaranteed.  $8M of the $15M in guarantees lock in for injury only.  Woods will be a year to year rental for Los Angeles.

RSO league consequences: Nothing to see here.  Woods theoretically slots in as a starting receiver for Sean McVay’s offense.  This is a Rams team that likely adds major receiving weapons over the next couple of years, however.  Woods could garner enough targets in 2017 to be useful in deeper leagues but should not be considered as more than a depth player on a one year contract.

Latavius Murray, RB, Minnesota Vikings

Published Contract: 3 years / $15 Million, $8.55M guaranteed

Real Contract: 1 year with two team option years

What it means: Oh how the mighty have fallen.  The fact that this is the premier contract given to a running back in free agency says all you need to know about the running back market.  Former heavyweights at the position including Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, and Eddie Lacy have gathered only marginal interest (Editor’s Note: Lacy signed a 1-year deal with Seattle that guaranties him $2.865M and could earn him up to $5.55M depending on his performance and his weight).  A number of factors including a deep running back draft class plus analytics research detailing the minimal effect of the run game generally and the running back specifically have suppressed the demand for running backs.  Only $2.7M of Murray’s contract is fully guaranteed.  The cap number balloons from a small sub-$3M number in 2017 to well over $6M in 2018 with only $1.2M in dead money left.  The contract is tailor-made for Murray’s release or contract restructure in 2018.

RSO league consequences: Murray moves in as the top back in Minnesota, splitting time with incumbent Jerick McKinnon.  This is likely more of a timeshare rather than players with separate, strict roles in the offense.  McKinnon is competent catching flares and screens out of the backfield but is not a particularly good receiver or route runner.  Murray is better in pass protection and likely takes most goal line work based on Minnesota’s previous use of the departed Matt Asiata.  The offensive line was a mess in 2016, but Minnesota spent a lot of money shoring up the position in free agency.  The Vikings are also prime candidates to add offensive line talent in the draft.  Minnesota could also look at running back in the draft.  Overall, consider Murray a low upside borderline RB2/3 in RSO leagues.  Murray has not demonstrated special talent so far in the league and given his NFL contract, I would not sign Murray to more than a 1-year RSO contract.

*Contract details were taken from Spotrac.


Bio: Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

How RSO Rookie Drafts Differ

Updated: August 30th 2016

After participating in several RSO rookie drafts, I began to think about how much these differ from standard dynasty league rookie drafts that are the industry standard throughout the fantasy community.  Rankings and Average Draft Positions that you’ll see on sites like Dynasty League Football are intended for standard dynasty leagues, where you can keep the selected rookies on your roster for an unlimited amount of time.  The presence of 3 to 4 year rookie contacts may create a market inefficiency with owners not shifting their draft strategy away from standard dynasty to match the uniqueness and realism RSO provides.  Retaining that player past their rookie contract will likely force that owner to pay the average of the top five salaries at that position, meaning that the player must become elite at their position by the end of their rookie deal to warrant the tag.  It’s worth noting that some leagues implement limits on the number of times a player can be tagged before he has to return to the free agent auction.  Sure, the player can be re-acquired in the free agent auction, but his cap hit will now be determined by the open market.

The Research

I set out to determine which positions should be prioritized in RSO rookie drafts by providing the best return on investment (ROI).  To do this, I created a sample of QBs, RBs, WRs, and TEs that in the last three years (2013, 2014, 2015) posted a season that was “start worthy”.  For simplicity, I defined “start worthy” as players who finished among in the top 10 QBs, top 25 RBs, top 25 WRs, and top 10 TEs for the 2013, 2014, or 2015 seasons in standard scoring, data courtesy of Pro Football Reference.  The sample created a player pool consisting of 19 QBs, 47 RBs, 48 WRs, and 20 TEs.  With my sample pool selected, I began tracking how quickly each player put together a “start worthy” season by recording the results from their first four seasons in the league.

The Results

Start Worthy Chart

Quarterbacks

95% “Start Worthy” by year 4 – Before conducting this research, I expected quarterbacks to take longer to become “start worthy” and was surprised to see 18 of 19 did that in their first 4 seasons.  On average, it took these QBs 2.61 years to put together such a season, meaning this usually happened in years 2 and 3.  Those numbers alone may not mean a lot, but let’s see how it compares to other positions.

Running backs

1.91 years, the average time it takes a running back to become “start worthy” – For a variety of reasons (most of which I agree with), RBs are devalued in dynasty leagues.  However, I believe we should think differently about running backs in RSO as they typically become “start worthy” by year 2 at a ROOKIE SALARY!  This past off-season, I went out of my way to acquire additional second round picks to have more chances of hitting on one of these cost-effective productive young RBs.

Wide receivers

2.02 years, the average time it takes wide receivers to become “start worthy” – WRs are the stars of dynasty football, the prized assets that command huge trade returns.  Becoming “start worthy” by year 2 confirms that WRs are still very valuable in RSO, but might not hold as drastic of an edge over RBs as in standard dynasty leagues.

Tight ends

5% = the lowest % increase in becoming “start worthy” from year 3 to year 4 – By year 3, you may know what you have with your TE prospect.  80% of the sample put forth “start worthy” seasons by year 3, with only 1 TE waiting until year 4.  Important to note, TEs also took the longest time to produce an ROI with an average of 2.53 years to become “start worthy”.

What does this mean to RSO players?

Personally, I wouldn’t select a rookie QB in the 1st round of a rookie draft unless the format is 2QB or Superflex.  With that said, I do feel more comfortable with selecting the top QB prospects in the 2nd or 3rd round of rookie drafts after discovering that the breakout QBs almost always do so by their fourth season.  RBs and WRs should be heavily prioritized in RSO rookie drafts, given that they’re the quickest to produce “start worthy” seasons after entering the league.  While I’d give WRs a slight edge over RBs since they’re more consistent year to year, RBs close the gap a bit in RSO by becoming “start worthy” the soonest.  TEs, on the other hand, should be widely ignored in rookie drafts.  It frequently takes too long for these players to develop into starting caliber options.  Sure, there are outliers – Rob Gronkowski comes to mind.  But strategies built on the outcomes of outliers are doomed to fail.

To summarize, target RBs and WRs in your rookie drafts.  In trades, I’ll typically ask for a 2nd round pick to be added as a thrown in.  While mostly insignificant, I want more chances at hitting on a breakout RB or WR on a multi-year rookie contract.  The RBs and WRs that break out often do so by year 2, which makes it quicker to know when to cut bait on a bust and use the roster spot elsewhere.


Bio: An avid fan of all things NFL, Dave has been playing fantasy football since 1999.  Though Dave participates in all types of fantasy football including redraft and daily, he prefers keeper and dynasty leagues as talent evaluation and scouting are integral components of each. 

Guide to Starting RSO League

Updated: July 22nd 2016

Thinking of starting a Reality Sports Online league, but aren’t sure of what settings may create the best experience?  You’re in the right spot!  This piece will walk through the settings that I believe to be ideal for creating a new RSO league!

ROSTER REQUIREMENTS

Number of teams: 10
Roster Spots: 15
IR: Unlimited
I typically avoid 10 standard team leagues as the player pool is not deep enough for my liking, but I’m very fond of the format presented here.  These settings provide a balance of increasing the size of the player pool, while still forcing owners to face difficult lineup decisions on a week-to-week basis.  All of the leagues that I run offer unlimited IR slots.  Once you’ve designated a player to the IR in RSO leagues, they cannot be removed from that slot until the following season.  Placing the injured player on the IR saves you 50% of the player’s cap hit and frees up a roster spot.  Losing a player for the entire season is enough of a disadvantage to not also have to burn a roster spot and their full cap hit for the remainder of the season.

STARTING LINEUP

QB
QB
RB
RB
WR
WR
WR
TE
RB/WR/TE
RB/WR/TE
Bench
Bench
Bench
Bench
Bench
I’ve grown to be really fond of the 2QB format.  Quarterback may be the most important position in all of sports, but it’s far from that in standard fantasy football.  The strategy of drafting a QB late continues to gain momentum.  As the NFL has become more of a passing league, many QBs (not just the elite few) have seen an increase in production.  2QB or even Superflex leagues that feature an offensive player position to be filled with any QB/RB/WR/TE create a greater demand for QBs as they are the highest scoring position in fantasy football.  Forcing your league to start 20 quarterbacks makes the elite more valuable and eliminates the possibility of landing top 10-15 QBs at the end of your draft.
I’ve also eliminated the kicker and DEF/ST positions as I find them to be less strategic and more random positions to draft and evaluate on a week to week basis.  For more on my push to retire the DEF/ST positions, please read my column titled #NoMoreDEFST.

SCORING SETTINGS

Passing TD 4
Passing Yards .04 per yard
Interception -1
Rushing/Receiving TD 6
Rushing/Receiving Yards .1 per yard
Reception 0.5
These scoring settings are fairly standard.  While I prefer PPR to standard scoring, I believe that 0.5 points per reception is the best way to play.  It rewards players for their involvement in the passing game, but doesn’t equate to the same value as 10 yards rushing or receiving.  Pass-catching running backs are elevated in this format, but not as drastically as they are in full PPR scoring.

HOW MANY LONG-TERM CONTRACTS SHOULD BE AVAILABLE TO EACH OWNER?

I’m a fan of the standard settings for long-term contracts in the Free Agency Auction – one 4-year contract, two 3-year contracts, three 2-year contracts, and unlimited 1-year contracts.  While more may seem appealing, it’s important to have quality players available in the Free Agency Auction every year.

STARTUP SCHEDULE

Once you’ve created a RSO league, you’ll need to schedule the Rookie Draft.  As a startup league, you have no previous season to use as a basis for the draft order. Randomly assigning the order can create an imbalance in your league since the difference between Ezekiel Elliott and Paul Perkins is drastic.  I recommend making players drafted in the 1st and 2nd round of the NFL Draft ineligible for your inaugural Rookie Draft.  These ineligible players would then be available in your first Free Agency Auction.  Proceeding with the rookie draft in a randomized order/snake format should level the playing field.

OFF-SEASON SCHEDULE

In all keeper and dynasty leagues, communication is very important to keep the league moving forward, to maintain interest, and to get input from all owners.  Sending bi-weekly or monthly emails, even throughout the offseason, has worked for many of my leagues.  During the season, you can post Power Rankings, discuss the Standings, or recent trade activity.  In the offseason, you can develop a plan to replace any non-returning owners, schedule Owners’ Meetings (possibly as a conference call) to discuss the direction of the league, and discuss the rookie draft and trade market as teams get their rosters for the next season.

If this format interests you, please reach out to me on Twitter @DaveSanders_RSO!  I’ll be forming a new league with readers and my Twitter followers in August.  This is a great opportunity to try RSO for the first time!


Bio: An avid fan of all things NFL, Dave has been playing fantasy football since 1999.  Though Dave participates in all types of fantasy football including redraft and daily, he prefers keeper and dynasty leagues as talent evaluation and scouting are integral components of each.